The concept of the Internet meme is not exactly new by modern standards. The dancing baby developed by Character Studio, for example, was the first explosive Internet sensation. Developed in 1996, this CGI sensation enjoyed a large amount of popularity, particularly after it was featured in the television series Ally McBeal.
However, we have been seeing more and more examples of the lesser-known underbelly of the Internet meme subculture bleeding into the pop culture world. With the advent of the ever-expanding social media phenomenon, there is a blurring of the lines between the meme-culture underbelly of the Internet and everyday society.
While memes, like the still relatively obscure Dolan Duck ─ MS Paint meets bad grammar portraying a psychotic rendition of Donald Duck ─ retain their predominance almost entirely in the annals of meme sites like Cheezburger, other parts of the Internet meme world have been enjoying a greater level of exposure. Many examples can be seen throughout popular sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Lolcats provides an example of one of the most pervasive memes. Technically, the concept of putting cats in humorous situations is something that can be traced to Harry Whittier Frees and his cat photos from the early 20th century. More recently, the beginnings of the Lolcat phenomenon on the Internet comes from early posting forums like General Mayhem. Subsequent sites like the much more well-known 4chan provided an explosion of these types of memes, eventually lending to the name of the more modern incarnation of Cheezburger.
The Lolcat phenomenon lends to a huge number of posts all over social media, generating not only a vast wealth of humorous cat images but what is commonly referred to as “lolspeak”. Lolspeak, if you’re not already aware, is the purposeful use of misspellings and grammatical errors originally used to convey the less sophisticated thoughts of a feline. Images and quotes like “I can haz cheezburger”, grumpy cat, and the kitty sniper all started from what is still a growing horde of funny cat photos. It seems people love their kitties.
The sporting world has provided a particularly rapid-growth market for the Internet meme. Probably the most well-known manifestation features Maroney McKayla’s “disappoint face”. This meme ran wild both in the meme world and sports culture. It became so huge that Barack Obama snapped a photo of Maroney while both of them donned their own “disappoint face”.
Jack Blankenship made a name for himself at University of Alabama games by bucking the traditional use of waving distracting celebrity faces. He instead created a giant image of his own face to hold up as a distraction to the opposing team.
The images of his face went viral. From this there spawned images of all kinds: some remaining exclusively as online phenomenon while others became commonplace at actual sporting events. “Yes, this is dog” is offered to referee in light of the NFL lockout. The green man has worked to distract many an athlete. College students don huge meme-related signs during their pre-game tailgates.
The continued growth of the social media empire will continue to expand the meme universe. There are those meme fans who predate the explosion of popularity who have expressed concern and distaste about the widespread propagation in social media and advertising. The more exposure memes get, the more they become an aspect of the greater pop culture. This may be eroding the once-small community of meme lovers, but like it or not, the meme culture looks to continue its integration with the wider culture of our society.
The creator of the modern concept of the meme, biologist Richard Dawkins, points out a cultural meme is like a creature of its own — constantly changing, constantly evolving. He is most certainly correct.